Notes: Young arms provide options
Masset, Haeger could slot into rotation or 'pen for White Sox
TUCSON, Ariz. -- When Spring Training officially began for the White Sox with pitchers and catchers reporting last Saturday, Nick Masset was assumed by many as close to a lock for the sixth spot in the team's bullpen, and Charlie Haeger was considered a prime candidate for the fifth starter's position.
Before Cactus League action comes to a close, those two roles could be reversed.
Masset continued to impress with his high velocity and movement during Monday's bullpen session, so much so that manager Ozzie Guillen spoke after practice about the right-hander getting a look as a rotation possibility in the upcoming weeks. Haeger also had his knuckler dancing during his session with catcher Toby Hall, keeping his name in the mix along with Masset, Gavin Floyd, John Danks, Gio Gonzalez and Lance Broadway, to name an impressive few.
But with the winner of the fifth starter's battle possibly needing a little buffer innings-wise, at least compared to the immediate consistency expected from the rotation's first four, Haeger could be just the man to hold down an important relief job. Not only could he spot start, but he also could work on a nearly daily basis with the benefit of his knuckler.
Facing a left-handed hitter or a right-handed hitter, as well as working one inning or three innings, doesn't faze Haeger.
"I feel like, because I don't really know what it's going to do some times, that it doesn't matter whether I'm facing righties or lefties," said Haeger with a smile, after posting a 1.29 ERA over 14 innings of relief last season. "I think I really would bring versatility to the bullpen."
Both Haeger and Masset share the sentiment that any Major League job is a good job with the rest of the young White Sox pitchers. Masset worked as a starter for most of his Minor League career, before making 17 relief appearances for Triple-A Oklahoma in 2006, followed by eight for the Rangers. He picked up 15 saves as closer for Mazatlan in the Mexican Pacific League during the winter.
Basically, the White Sox not only have talent, but they also have some interchangeable parts among these fresh arms, giving Guillen some interesting choices over the next few weeks.
"It's fun to see those guys throw," Guillen said. "The attitude is there. They're anxious to be at the games. Like I say, it's going to be a different Spring Training.
"I don't want 10 guys fighting for a spot. I want 10 guys fighting for the staff. That's what we're looking for. You fight for the staff, then we figure out who's going to be the starter."
Size doesn't matter: At 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, casual observers watching Gonzalez are constantly amazed when his 94-mph fastball pops the catcher's mitt. Count Guillen among that group, who pointed out Gonzalez's impressive bullpen session Sunday.
But don't ask Gonzalez where the big power comes from within his small frame.
"I can't explain it," said the energetic Gonzalez with a smile. "All I can say is that it's just hard work and a blessing from God."
Gonzalez, 21, currently is pitching in his second stint with the White Sox, after being acquired from the Phillies as part of the Freddy Garcia deal. The left-hander was disappointed in his 7-12 showing and 4.66 ERA for Double-A Reading in 2006, but through work with a trainer at the University of Miami during the offseason and support from his family, Gonzalez said he believes he's ready to compete for the fifth starter's spot this spring.
"Last year, I was trying to be too perfect and I wasn't focused at all -- too much distraction," Gonzalez said. "In the offseason, my father [Max] was helping with my mechanics and building my arm strength. I was lucky he was there for me, and my mom was also a big help."
Swing and a drive: White Sox pitchers took to the unfamiliar role of batting practice Monday, with Bobby Jenks earning the long drive award. Jenks' blast off the pitching machine easily cleared the left-field fence at one of the back fields, although Guillen wasn't quite ready to include pinch-hitting in the closer's vast duties.
A group of young pitchers struggled collectively with the bat, causing third-base coach Razor Shines to announce, "There's always one guy in the group who can't hit a lick, and this group might have two or three."
Shines also pointed out Haeger as possibly the best hitter of his group after a sharp grounder to left, and Haeger followed up the compliment with a double off of the left-field wall.
Jose Contreras practiced his bunting during batting practice, but did not take any swings, just as he was held out of Sunday's sliding drills in a safety-first approach.
"What if Contreras swings and hurts himself?" said Guillen, who wants his pitchers ready for hitting and running the bases in Cactus League play against NL teams. "Some people have it, and some people don't."
Still short one: Upon further review, catcher Gustavo Molina leaves the White Sox one away from their full complement of pitchers and catchers at Spring Training. The Venezuelan native, who earned high marks from veteran White Sox pitchers last spring for his game-calling, is stuck at home because of visa problems. Guillen explained how the U.S. Embassy is closed during Carnivale, and Molina can't get his new visa until the Embassy re-opens on Wednesday.
Minor League coach Manny Trillo also has not been able to get to Tucson from Venezuela.
"When you're going to make the team and impress people, you should be there early in the Embassy and get your passport early," said Guillen, who joked that Molina was hanging around with "my friend Chavez," in reference to controversial Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. "I don't know, they can have the excuse to Mr. Joe Torre or Mr. Bobby Cox.
"But I'm from Venezuela. I'm from Latin America. The visa is there."
Around the horn: Jermaine Dye arrived in camp Monday afternoon, joking with his teammates and chatting briefly with Guillen. Dye chose to wait until later in the week to talk with the media concerning his outlook on the current contract situation. ... The White Sox annual Tucson charity golf outing with the Diamondbacks took place Monday, with close to 20 players and coaches associated with the team taking part.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.